Friday, 27 June 2014

Voyagers II: The Alien Within by Ben Bova

Oh, Ben Bova, where did you go wrong with this one?

Oh yeah. When you decided to make it all about teaching the alien inside Stoner's brain all about humans, and everything that he learned as a truth about humans was reductionist evolutionary psychology. And not good evolutionary psychology. Just that stuff that reifies all the gender things, and more or less says that men and women have interacted with each other the same way across all of human history. And men with men. And women with women. Culture? Nah, that doesn't play a role. It's all about mate selection. Always. And that always happens the same way. Societal norms have nothing to do with anything.

"You're not just a baby machine" is not a phrase guaranteed to endear you to any women, in case you're wondering, men. Unless you're the main female character, who it positively makes swoon.

I'm glad you got over this evolutionary psychology phase, Bova. I don't remember this in any of your later books. But man.

This is also one of his books written just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, where the USSR coming to an end peacefully is absolutely unthinkable, and I always enjoy reading the Cold War view on what the future would be. Not for its accuracy, certainly, but what it can tell us about people's hopes and fears in that time period.

In this book (I haven't read the first), Keith Stoner is brought back to Earth after freezing himself in suspended animation in an alien spaceship so that humans would have to mount a rescue mission. When he is thawed, he apparently brought along another visitor - the dead alien in the spacecraft. Most cannot believe that it doesn't have ill intentions. Some want to control Keith and the knowledge from the spacecraft, others to kill him. He escapes where he is being held, and proceeds to teach the alien about humans.

In the most reductionist gender terms ever. Blargh.

Also, he does this thing that I've seen before, and it's often gendered, and I don't understand it. I just simply don't. The idea that men are all trying to attract women (probably true, but women aren't try to attract men as well? Or most people aren't trying at some point to attract a partner of the gender they prefer?) and women line up the men and choose the best mate, leading to frustration and rejection among the men. One, that tends to put all the power on women and their choices, and a cursory glance at gender history and the way courtship and marriage have worked across various time periods would put the kibosh on a) inordinate power on women's side and b) that it always worked the same way.

Two, it also supposes that men are putting themselves out there for women, and women simply have to choose. And that rejection is a uniquely male experience. Really? Because there have only been a couple of times in my entire life that the man I was attracted to was attracted to me. (Luckily one of those times was my wonderful husband.) I've pined, unrequitedly, over guys. I've been rejected, overtly, and subtly. Why do some people persist in thinking this is a male-only experience?

Seriously, we've pretty much all tried to attract the attention of someone, only to have it fail utterly. The power isn't on one side. And I'm disappointed in this book. The bits not about evolutionary psychology were very interesting. The parts where every woman falls in love with Stoner because he's the best choice for father of their children, which is all all women really care about? Ugh.

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